25 April 2010

Dudenation Demands P2K-Compliance from the Women they "Care About"

Men sometimes think it is acceptable to demean, dehumanize, and devalue the women they know, because it's all in fun, and because the women they know accept it as humor. But I want to know: How can men actually endure the dynamic of watching a woman who they (presumably) know, value, and care about smilingly agree to her own dehumanization?

(I don't really need to ask, sadly. The question is really more rhetorical.)

Last night, riding in a car with a mixed-gender group at college, I had the following conversation:

Dude (shouting out window at three women): Hey sluts!

Me: (blinking in shock)

Dude: Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to be -- I know those girls. I'd never yell that out the window at someone I didn't know!

Me: I'm sure.

Dude: No seriously, I know them, it's ok.

Me: I have no doubt that you know them.

Dude: (continues awkwardly justifying himself/apologizing, eventually leaves car to go meet a "booty call")

Afterward, I felt guilty that perhaps I had been rude. Then I realized *headdesk* that's exactly what the Patriarchy would want me to believe. If anything, I'd merely refused to absolve him from his guilt by my deadpan, blank-stare response. But of course that's not enough! Women owe Dudes forgiveness and absolution or even apologies when we cause Dudes some kind of pain or embarrassment by pointing out their misogyny!!

But in the final analysis what struck me about this incident is that the Dude realized that it would be rude to dehumanize a woman he didn't know -- or at least it would make her think less of him, since the woman he didn't know wouldn't understand the sophisticated humor in his use of the epithet. Hence, he refrains from heckling women he doesn't know, because that would result in them regarding him as an a$$hole. But a woman he does know, with whom he interacts on a regular basis, and who he presumably thinks he respects, she's fair game. Because she's proven to him over and over her conformity to the Patriarchy, and he knows he won't get any crap from her about his abuse. In fact, he assumes that she will recognize that because he's Such a Great Guy, the epithet isn't even an epithet. It's a mark of his notice, a sign that he has magnanimously granted her some of his precious male attention.

What a world. Again, I don't blame the women for laughing it off; it's what they've been trained to do and it's usually the best option available. IBTP.

23 April 2010

Men Who Cannot Read Signals from Women

[I have been trying to find an article I read a few years ago that discussed why women are rightly offended/alarmed/disturbed when men ignore blatant indications that the woman is not interested in conversation, etc. I can't find it, and I apologize in advance to the author for broadly restating hir arguments. It was a revelation to me when I read it, and I hope to rediscover it someday.]

This morning I was waiting at the bus stop when a nearby man tried to catch my eye. It was 8:30 a.m., I'd just done a three-week grocery shop on very little coffee, and I was even less interested in socializing than I usually am. And believe me, I'm rarely interested in socializing. So I pointedly looked away, gathered my shopping bags around me, pulled out my phone, and focused on texting Comrade Dziga. I even pulled up the hood of my jacket. Message: not in talking mood.

But of course the guy ended up coming closer to me and hovering in that "I want to talk to you, lady," way. Even more intense focus on the cell phone on my part. He asked me my name, and I waited about a minute before looking up and answering, "um ... [not-totally-accurate-name]." Looked back down at my phone. No inquiries about his name or any indication that I wanted to pursue this conversation. He wanted to know if the nickname I'd given was short for anything. I looked at him with a "seriously? you're an idiot" expression and after a long pause gave the him the obvious fullname associated with the nickname. Back down to the phone, more "I'm ignoring you" body language. He asked me if I lived or worked in the area. Um, no. I just routinely come to distant cities to do grocery shopping! It's great! I reluctantly said that I go to college here, and when he asked which college, I said that I was sorry, but I don't share personal information with strangers.

He was good enough to nicely apologize and walk away. I appreciated that -- and then, of course, I started feeling the old patriarchal guilt trip that I should have been nicer to him! He was actually a respectful guy! But no ... why do I owe anyone conversation just because HE desires to chat me up?

This guy was probably harmless, but as the article I read a few years ago points out, women are rightly concerned when a guy ignores clear signals that she's uninterested in engaging in conversation. The assumption that a woman is obliged to be nice to some random stranger who peppers her with unwanted questions in public is ultimately related to the assumption that a woman owes sex to any man who express interest in / affection for her. This guy probably had no intentions beyond talking with me, but it really bothered me that he was unwilling to read simple signals that scream I am ignoring you.

I found this article that (pretty much) argues that guys are just hopelessly clueless because of their biology: "So ladies trying to brush off a guy at work or the gym may need to be, uh, more direct." No, actually ... when it comes to the guy-trying-to-pick-up-a-stranger-in-the-street. It's not my obligation to go around informing strangers that I'm not interested in flirting. It's the stranger's obligation to leave me the f*ck alone if I'm pointedly ignoring him.

No one owes you conversation, attention, or affirmation, buddy; and if you wouldn't heckle a strange man to give you his name and address, don't do the same to a woman. I rarely see or hear about men being approached by other men in this manner, but it has happened innumerable times to me and my female friends. And no, I'm not trying to destroy romance by forbidding people from trying to pick up dates; if I'd returned his smile and nod with the same, then his initial approach would have been acceptable. And if I'd given him my name and then asked for his, that would indicate that I'm up for further conversation. But I didn't. I looked away when he tried to catch my eye, I tried not to answer his questions and I certainly expressed zero interest in asking him anything or getting to know him in any way. Yet he still continued demanding that I engage in conversation.

It is not sweet, adorable cluelessness that drives this kind of behavior. It's the privileged assumption that women exist to be nice, friendly, and to give men what they want.

11 April 2010

Infidelity in the News

I'm so tired of the endless media circus about infidelity. Yes, cheating on a spouse is terrible; but what is really the subject of the debate hidden behind outrage over infidelity? I argue that society uses infidelity as a way to talk about other subjects. Witness the different coverage of Tiger Woods' and Jesse James' infidelities. In one case, infidelity becomes a way to talk about the impudence of a black man marrying and then disappointing a white woman. In the other case, the topic turns from the actual infidelity to speculations on whether a woman's career can provoke her husband to cheat. Two cheating spouses, two very different stories.

What is also exasperating about our fixation with following the infidelities of others is that it centers on The Sanctity of Marriage. Marriage is fine, same-sex marriage should be legal, trusting and caring partnerships (in or out of marriage) are amazing. However, marriage simply is not as important as the social discourse around infidelity would have us believe. And since it's the people who believe that Marriage Is The Foundation of Society who pose one of the biggest threats to civil liberties in this nation (abortion rights, gay rights, women's rights are all under threat from these Sanctimonious folk) it's even more important to reject the cultural memes that further promote the idea that Marriage is the Most Important Part of Society. Peace, justice, friendship, loving-kindness. Much more important.

Therefore, I was particularly struck by this article from Women on the Web, which makes the startling claim that "It’s almost as bad as discovering your father is a child molester — the person you thought you knew the best in the world turns out to be a stranger." Um, no, I'm sorry -- infidelity and child molestation are very different degrees of criminality/betrayal. Yes, I know Norris Church Mailer wrote "it's almost as bad" so she wasn't really equating them ... but still, the comparison rings completely false and bringing it up is offensive to survivors of molestation. Yes, infidelity is a violation. But it is a very different kind of violation.

What kind of violation is it? The author provides this answer:
Nothing has changed since the caveman days, when the man hunted the giant mammoth and the woman cleaned it and cooked it and took care of the kids. They were a team, they needed each other. If some other woman came sniffing around the man, it was to take him away from his woman so he could provide for her, and that was life threatening because the wife’s food source was taken, as well, and she and her children likely might die. It’s still the same. There is always some woman who wants what you have, who wants your man, your house, your car; your life. If the door is opened a little bit, a predatory woman will not hesitate to kick it in, and let’s face it — there is a bit of the predator in all of us, as well as the good and decent woman we are.
Oh, evolutionary psychology! How right you are. Infidelity poses a risk to a woman's very livelihood!!! She and her children will die if her husband is unfaithful!!! And yes, in parts of the world and in certain situations, this is still true. However, for many Western women, thankfully, we have more support from the law than we once did. If anything, we need to work to make the laws and social conventions even more supportive of women who are divorced, single parents, etc. But I'm sorry, I don't accept the logic that women are emotionally scarred by infidelity because a cavewoman ancestor would have feared starvation if another predatory woman stole her man. The emotional scars are there, but this is not where they come from. (Also, a bit of a predator in all of us? Please. I've been attracted to plenty of men who were in relationships, and I never made the slightest move to "steal" them away from their partners. I reject and resent the stereotype that all women are catty man-thieves.)

More EvoPsych follows:
It’s often said that men in happy marriages don’t cheat, but that’s not true. Pretty much all men will cheat, given the right circumstance and the right woman. They are wired differently than us, at least my husband was.
Are they wired so differently? Just like proposing that all women are predators, this generalization sells the honest men short, and ends up like most of these "my experience explains the world" pieces (see the Atlantic!) by admitting that the generalization is based on a very small sample. And since Norris Church Mailer was married to Norman Mailer ... yes, I'm sure she had a pretty awful time of it. But the conclusion is that Norman Mailer was a CPOS, not that all men are.

And then the plot thickens, as Mailer reveals that she was Norman Mailer's 6th wife. I would never blame her for his infidelities, but I do question why anyone would choose a partner who has demonstrated that he/she has traits that the potential partner deems to be problematic. (And again, this is a perspective from which the cheating spouse / child molester father are totally different. We can't choose our parents and we can't really "divorce" them.) However, it's none of my business why she married him and why she decided to stay with him -- until she makes it public by using her own story as a framework for understanding all men and all women and all relationships.

I have a lot of respect for the conclusion of her piece, in which she points out that sometimes more complicated relationships can be better than the high-school-sweethearts-never-touched-anyone-else model that Sanctity of Marriage folks endorse. However, the article doesn't really lead up to this conclusion effectively; it jumps out at the reader at the end, reversing much of the earlier arguments. And as noted above, the earlier arguments tend to be tedious, EvoPsych infused justifications of both infidelity and our hysteria over infidelity.

All men are wired to cheat. And a cheating spouse is The Worst Thing That Can Happen to a Woman or Society.

Oh, please. Let people work out their relationship issues between the two (or three or four or five or ten) people concerned, and let's put more of our time into ending female genital mutilation, preventing child molestation, and eliminating domestic violence.

(Note: this is not meant to be an argument that women who are concerned about or hurt by infidelity should "get over it" and "focus on the real issues." This is addressing the media coverage of infidelity, which tends to elevate it to an importance granted to very few other issues -- an importance which I believe is undeserved and which is detrimental to society because it reinforces the ideas of the Sanctity of Marriage movement.)

09 April 2010

Privlege and Prejudice Move Product

I was in a discussion at Thus Spake Zuska about an ad that originally I took as (relatively) politically neutral (not that anything really can be, of course!). As I watched the ad a few times, however, I started noticing aesthetic elements that were interesting to me, and I described them:
What struck me (especially since I've been watching a lot of old musicals lately, full of racist cliches) is how the white couple talked to their appliances. They use the same tone of voice as the heroes and heroines of classic Hollywood musicals use when addressing their black servants....For anyone interested in a few more thoughts on some interesting choices in the ad (things many of you have probably already noticed) ... the woman's dress (especially the full cut of the skirt), pearl necklace and hairstyle strongly evoke the 1940s and 1950s, and although the man is not wearing the sport coat that is usually featured in films from that era, his classic cardigan is something that Fred Astaire might wear (say in "The Band Wagon").
The replies were hilarious, with several people basically telling me to shut up and go read fashion magazines. Even better was the fact that most of the responses criticizing my analysis were very much in line with the kind of comments I hear from freshmen when I introduce an analysis with which they disagree in my lectures. For some people the idea of responding to what is literally one the screen is impossible; they'd rather respond to an alternative version of the media that exists only in their own heads. And responding in one's own name with one's own reading is regarded as "stream-of-conscious" analysis, overly subjective, etc. etc. Tell me, if I don't respond with my own reading, whose reading should I offer? In whose name should I speak, if not my own? And when is any reading anything other than subjective???

But the point of this post: others replied by arguing that the ad isn't racist because it could have been produced with black actors playing the couple. Yes ... and no.

I can imagine the ad's creators making the ad with a black couple. I don't believe they set out to make a "racist ad." However, that would only happen if, say, focus-group data indicated that such casting would appeal to consumers. Because ...

...ads are never created to actually give us new ideas about the world; rather, they present the world as it is already understood by the majority of the population. By doing that, advertisers are able to sell the maximum amount of product.

Even ads that appear to be "edgy" or "transgressive" usually are not; they are simply subtly concealing their complicity in giving the world an image of itself that conforms to patriarchal/capitalist norms. Any image that fundamentally contradicts the way we are programmed to understand and relate to the world will not sell product. And since the patriarchal world is racist, sexist, classist, sizist, ableist, imperialist etc., the vast, vast majority of ads participate in a racist, sexist, sizist, ableist, classist, imperialist discourse.

The people who indignantly posted that the ad wasn't racist/sexist are ignoring the fact that every ad has to participate (to a greater or lesser extent) in this racist/sexist/etc/etc discourse that is absolutely part of everyone's pattern of thinking in our patriarchal world.

08 April 2010

Nice Guys

Reading the definition of "Nice Guys (TM)" at Shakesville got me thinking about my own recent experience with a "nice guy" who ended up deeply disappointing me when it became clear that our friendship had never been what I thought it was.

Two years ago, I became friendly with a guy from work. He knew that I was engaged, but suggested that we hang out and watch some movies together. I asked my fiance (and my mother) what they thought I should do, since I was getting vaguely flirtatious vibes from this guy. Comrade Dziga (fiance still ... but only for six more months!) told me that of course I should enjoy a friendship with this interesting guy; we shared interests and Dziga pointed out that he had plenty of female friends. So I went forward with the friendship.

For months, Nice Guy and I would hang out and watch films, with nothing romantic/flirtatious/sexual going on. He'd tell me about his relationship troubles, and ask me about my relationship. I was always uniformly positive about things with Comrade Dziga, and for good reason. The man's a marvel! Suffice it to say, I never gave any indication that I was in any way questioning my engagement or that I was interested in Nice Guy.

Finally, Nice Guy met Comrade Dziga (with whom I've been in a long distance relationship for 2.5 years). Things got weird. Weird in that he started behaving completely differently, not talking to me, a host of strange behaviors. Since then, Nice Guy periodically mentions how wonderful it was when we used to hang out, suggests that we correspond by letter, or proposes that we do something together. I gamely try to follow through, from the theory that it's a friendship I would like to preserve. And he ends up leaving me hanging, backing out on plans, and generally behaving weirdly.

So thanks, Jeff